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Hypespeak or the difficulty in being a reviewer

Country Musings by Robert Loy, July 1996

So you want to be a music reviewer? Your soul is longing to express express itself through the art of criticism? You want to help humanity by steering confused consumers toward good music and away from bad? Or do you just want to get free CDs and try to meet some critic groupies?

Well, it's not as easy as it sounds. You'll need a good ear, of course - and a strong stomach. A theasaurus will come in handy; you'll need synonyms for "cute," "late" and "mediocre" when you're assigned to review (respectively) Bryan White, Michelle Wright and Travis Twit - I mean Tritt. (Make sure your computer has a spell-checker, too.)

But the main thing a critic has to be these days is bi-lingual, because along with those free CDs you get what is called a press kit. This is a package containing pictures, background info and pages of information about the artist and the work in question. The problem is that this stuff looks like it's written in English, but it's actually in a tongue invented by press agents.

It's called Hype, and it is language where one never says exactly what one means.

For example, if the press kit says "Tammy Whynot has decided not to tour behind her million-selling debut album," a normal person might think the artist has family obligations or is trying to build up anticipation, but a Hype-speaking critic knows what this statement actually means is "Without her whizbang husband slash producer and a studio full of equipment, Tammy can't sing any better than your average alley cat."

Getting the hang of it? Let's see. Following are some typical press kit sentences in Hype. See if you can translate them into English. (Answers are at the bottom.)

Stan Buyerman's long-awaited new CD (1) is finally out. His first album was critically acclaimed (2) but had a hard time finding its audience. (3) Stan is a genuine cowboy (4), an outlaw (5) with a lifelong love of music. (6) Stan has a lot of energy (7) and is famous for his wild stage shows. (8)

1. It took five years to find another record label desperate enough to take him on.
2. Critics everywhere claimed it stunk.
3. Sold five copies.
4. Once when he was a boy, he saw a cow.
5. Has a ticket for jaywalking he hasn't paid yet.
6. Too lazy to get a real job.
7. Not a lot of talent.
8. Tries to distract the audience from finding out he doesn't know all the lyrics.

If you got them all right, you were blessed with a built-in bull detector and may have a fabulous career as a critic in front of you. If not, then you may have to get a real job.